This morning I was reading N. T. Wright’s Simply Christian and came across a great quote. I was actually sitting in the warm Arizona sunshine enjoying a few days of relaxation while I’m sure many folks were in church. I was, in essence having a time of communion with God as I read and enjoyed the sounds of nature that were so alive on this mild, desert morning. The words that especially caught my eye, and were so refreshing to me were describing the church,

It’s where you’ll find people learning to pray, coming to faith, struggling with temptation, finding new purpose, and getting in touch with a new power to carry that purpose out. It’s where people bring their own small faith and discover, in getting together with others to worship the one true God, that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

I find this so refreshing because it has nothing to do with the externals we tend to associate with “worship” today. Those externals of music, sound, style, programs, design and many other so called features churches talk about to market themselves to an uninterested, disengaged public. I find myself longing for authenticity, relationship, transparency, shared struggles, and in general being loved and accepted rather than judged. Why, in so many instances has church become a place for performance rather than community? 

I love getting together with a group of people and just being me; being accepted like I am and being appreciated in spite of how different I may or may not be from the others in the group. That seems to happen more outside the church than within. More with the so-called non-Christians than with those who call themselves believers. I wonder what that means! 

Not long ago I was raised the question, Is God’s love for us separate from His forgiveness? The simple answer for me is the two are distinct yet you can’t have one without the other. When I was much younger I read a book entitled, Your God Is Too Small. The basic premise of this book is our tendency to frame our understanding of God in totally human terms, because that’s all we know. To a point that’s good but it becomes a problem when our human terms are no longer broad enough to handle God. We can’t fathom the depth of His love because in human terms we run out of understanding before we get to the limits of His love. 

When I was young I was taught that Christ died for my sins and that I was to receive God’s forgiveness, live a Christlike life and then spend eternity in heaven when I died. However, if I chose to turn away from God then I was no longer accepting His forgiveness and would spend eternity in hell. I know some of you reading this are not understanding the problem right now. Here’s my basic problem with this: I believe it goes against God’s character of love and it diminishes the power of the cross of Christ.

I was recently having a conversation with someone and as I shared this with her she said, “so what you’re saying is that there’s no punishment for your sin.” To which I responded, “there has been punishment, and that punishment was received once and for all by Christ on the cross.” Admittedly this line of thinking goes against our human sense of fairness and justice. However, for me to consider the possibility of diminishing the power of the cross and Christ’s forgiveness by saying I can undo His forgiveness seems like the most arrogant position I could possibly take. In addition, it puts us in a position of jumping through hoops to earn love and forgiveness. Even reducing this to human terms it’s hard to imagine a loving father doing something like that to His children.

So, where does this leave us? It leaves us forgiven. It leaves us at a point of not having to do anything to earn God’s love or forgiveness. It leaves us in a state of freedom. It leaves us as the recipients of God’s unmerited favor. It leaves us with a God much larger than our own own human understanding can even begin to fathom. Now what?

It was a little more than 15 years ago but I still remember it very clearly. I had a rather long commute to work those days, mostly freeway driving so I had plenty of time for processing thought. As I exited one freeway and merged onto another my thoughts led me to a fresh understanding of God’s love. I’m not sure why it had taken me so many years to come to this conclusion but I finally realized that God’s love was independent of my actions. It was a freeing day for me to know there was nothing I could do to make God love me any more than He already did, and nothing I could do to make Him love me any less.

It sounds simple enough on the surface, but in so many ways that fresh understanding set me free of some excess baggage, and opened the door to a new level in understanding the depth of God’s love. That was probably the beginning of what I’m now referring to as, Hoopless Christianity. I think it also contributed to many of the questions I’ve been exploring in more recent years: the largest of which has to do with God’s love and forgiveness.

The basic question is this: Is God’s love for us separate from His forgiveness? Can those two things be distinct? Can they be independent of each other or are they inextricably connected? That’s the heart of my most recent thinking. I feel like I’ve only begun this exploration but Id like to spend some time writing about this in the coming days and weeks. So, give me your thoughts so I can combine those with some of my own streams of conscious thinking. Are God’s love and forgiveness separate expressions?

A parting thought: As I’ve been exploring this general question I’ve had a growing sense of gratitude for God’s love and forgiveness. It’s a daily realization that I’ve been given a gift that is greater than I can imagine, and I’ve done nothing to deserve it. Let me hear from you!

My older brother and I have been having an ongoing discussion in recent months about hell. The discussion centers on whether a loving God would actually send someone to hell. My brother maintains that God would not do that. It’s not like my brother is some kind of God-hating liberal with no understanding of Christianity. He is a somewhat conservative, Republican, Evangelical pastor who has come to this conclusion over several years. 

I don’t spend a lot of time on You Tube but occasionally I run across something that is just too “good” to ignore. I’m quite sure that some will be offended by watching this, and that’s ok. There’s some real truth to what is being said. Some of it has to do with hell, and some of it just has to do with the mixed messages we as Christians send to those around us when we say things like, Jesus Loves You!

My general feeling is that we’ve made Christianity much more confusing than God ever intended (we’ve done the same thing to church). We’ve somehow separated God’s love from His forgiveness, I’ll write more about that soon. For now, take a look at the video and let me know what you think. Hell, Yes? or No?

Happy new year! It seems like such a long time since my last post. With so much happening during the month that has passed I’m almost tempted to do a recap, but I’ll refrain. The most significant thing during this last month was the marriage of our son to Claire Seward. The wedding required us to journey to Idaho and many months ago we made the decision to drive the 1425 miles from our home in Olathe KS to the bride’s hometown of Nampa ID. A decision that made good sense when we made it last July, however let me encourage you to never drive across Wyoming (or most any northern state) in the winter. I’ll avoid the details but suffice it to say there was a single 50 mile stretch that took 4 hours to cover.

As with any road trip there was plenty of time for thought and in spite of the white knuckle periods this trip was no exception. As a result of those streams of consciousness I have many things I’ll be writing about in upcoming posts. Some of these streams will flow in the form of questions and others will be more statement or belief driven. Here’s a sneek peek:

 

  • Are God’s love and His forgiveness separate from one another?
  • The mantle of the in-law
  • Scripture and theology: Which one grows out of the other?
  • We tend to define God by our ability to understand Him
  • The forgiving power of the cross of Christ
  • Christianity: With or without hoops
  • Boutique churches
  • Why do we gather each week for a service of worship?
  • How do our personalities impact our preferences when it comes to church attendance?
  • Can too many choices be a bad thing?

Well, there’s a sampling. It should be a fun journey to flesh-out these thoughts and others in the coming weeks. I hope you had a great holiday season and were able to spend at least some of it with people you love and cherish.

Several weeks ago I wrote about how church has become so complicated and how the machinery frequently gets in the way of just being the church. This past week I got a series of emails from a friend of mine who is visiting the Horn of Africa. This area of the continent includes Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and Kenya. He was there observing and training a growing group of church leaders whose greatest complication in life is not being killed because of their faith in Christ (how’s that for a complication?). The threat of death adds a unique level of complication, yet the “church” is growing exponentially, in uncomplicated ways!

Two years ago, in just one region of the horn of Africa there were 32 churches within this movement my friend observed. Today there are more than 700. Across the entire horn of Africa 4 new churches were planted every day during 2006. God is at work in astounding ways and is transforming people from all backgrounds, from witch doctors to children, and from mothers to grandmothers. It seems no one is exempt from this movement of God.

I know there is a strong and growing house church movement in America, but nothing on this level. Reading this story has caused me to wonder what would happen if the house church movement experienced this kind of impact in America? Could we handle something of this magnitude? Would we steward it appropriately? Would we recognize it with the same level of legitimacy as we do in other parts of the world? Or with the same level of attention we’ve given to the mega church? What would happen in this consumeristic country if we really reverted back to what was common practice in the early church? What if we allowed things to become this uncomplicated?

I came across this photo this morning. It was taken at the Presbyterian Church in Malibu shortly after the church burned this week. What an unbelievable photograph. It says so much on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin. WOW. It’s interesting that as I was looking at this photo a song began playing on my computer (I keep iTunes open most of the day with songs just playing randomly – and I have a lot of random music) called Come See by Michael W. Smith. What an amazing backdrop to this photo — some of the lyrics are:

Come see, Come see with spirit eyes
Come see, The door is open
Come near, Come weary and ashamed
Come near, His arms are open, His arms are open

What an incredible invitation to come to the table, all who are weary, broken, caught in the rubble of life, those who have lost everything or those who have plenty. Come near – His arms are open.